Sinead Farrelly

Walking through Week 12 of the NWSL season

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A before-and-after of the NWSL’s standings would tell you little about the league’s 12th week of the season. Sky Blue and Portland disappointed, but they remained one-two come Sunday night. FC Kansas City and Western New York, however – three-four in the league – gave strong performances, furthering the perception that the league’s four playoff teams have already stepped forward.

At the bottom of the table, Boston got a much-needed win over the league leaders on Sunday, a victory that keeps their long shot playoff hopes alive. Seattle is surging, a phrase people thought they would never read, while the Red Stars’ climb was haulted by their former cellar dwellers.

Let’s walk through the games, shall we?

Wednesday, June 26

Boston Breakers 1, Seattle Reign FC 2 – Seattle’s being improving for a month, but thanks to the depths to which they’d sunk and some terrible luck, the Reign remained winless. Then Wednesday came.

Though they gave up the opener, goals from Christine Nairn and Jessica Fishlock brought the visitors back, giving Seattle five points on the road this season (and none at home). Though neither Hope Solo nor Megan Rapinoe gave match-winning performances, you can’t help but thing the confidence they’ve brought to a floundering squad helped enable this comeback. It also prolonged a Breaker slide which, by the time they took the field on Sunday, Boston 10 points back of a playoff spot.

Implications: Seattle’s not going to make the playoffs, but right now, they’re playing as good as anybody. Sometimes, good soccer makes everything worthwhile. Boston, meanwhile, is grossly underperforming their talent and have to hope the integration of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher will eventually pay off.

NWSL Standings

Pos. PST
Rank
Team GP Pts. +/-
1 3 Sky Blue 14 27 +9
2 4 Portland 13 26 +7
3 2 Kansas City 12 23 +7
4 1 W. New York 12 22 +10
5 6 Boston 12 15 -1
6 7 Chicago 12 12 -7
7 5 Seattle 13 8 -12
8 8 Washington 11 6 -13

Sky Blue FC 2, FC Kansas City 2 – Two very late goals from substitute Monica Ocampo salvaged a result for the league leaders, the Mexican international continuing to make her case for playing time in place of the underperforming Danesha Adams and Kelley O’Hara (who continues to deal with an ankle problem). Where it not for her outburst, FC Kansas City would have gotten revenge for a their May 25 loss in Overland Park, one in which the Blues played most of the match with 10.

Regardless, Vlatko Andonovski’s starting XI shakeup looks to be paying off. Melissa Henderson, Courtney Jones, and Erika Tymrak are in. Renae Cualler, Sinead Farrelly, Merritt Mathias are out, and Kansas City looks like their former selves. Lauren Cheney has pulled into a tie for the league lead in goals (seven), while Tymrak looks like one of the year’s best draft picks.

Implications: We covered FCKC, but for Sky Blue the result highlights the problems they have with teams that can play wide. Western New York has given them problems all season, and FC Kansas City had the better of play on Wednesday. Both teams are capable of stretching that compact Sky Blue defense.

Friday, June 28

Western New York 4, Washington Spirit 0 – Three goals from Carli Lloyd and some extra time frosting from Brittany Taylor made for one of the most lopsided results of the season, one that had Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris fuming after the game. Harris called out her defense (“How are you going to give someone like Carli Lloyd the amount of space and time she had”), potentially called out her coach (“we need some guidance, we need some leadership and until we get that, nothings going to change”), while expressing disappointment in “my team and myself.”

Implications: Mike Jorden was fired on Sunday.

Saturday, June 29

League Leaders

Goals Assists
Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 8 Lianne Sanderson (BOS) 7
Abby Wambach (WNY) 7 Lauren Cheney (FCKC) 5
Sydney Leroux (BOS) 7 Leigh Ann Robinson (FCKC) 5
Sophie Schmid (SBFC) 6 Abby Wambach (WNY) 4
3 tied at 5 Katy Freels-Frierson (SBFC) 4

Seattle Reign FC 3, Chicago Red Stars 1 – On three days rest, one of which was spent on the return trip from Boston, Seattle got their second win of the season, climbing out of the cellar on the strength of their season’s first home points. While more focus will go to Rapinoe and Solo (Rapinoe didn’t start), Seattle’s other standouts did the damage. Kaylyn Kyle, whose move to central defense has salvaged her season, opened the scoring from the spot, while Jessica Fishlock’s ball under the cross bar from outside the penalty area sealed the victory. Rapinoe would add extra time insurance.

Implications: Seattle’s unbeaten in three, and you really can’t understate the quality and confidence it took to overcome the travel to knock off a team playing on nine days rest. For Chicago, if may have been the most disappointing result since the arrival of Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss, but it’s nothing they shouldn’t shake off.

Sunday, June 30

FC Kansas City 2, Portland Thorns FC 0 – For the second game in a row, Portland couldn’t stop their opponents from hitting their defense with momentum coming out of midfield. Unfortunately for them, FC Kansas City didn’t show the same mercy Sky Blue did last week. A brilliant goal from Lauren Cheney (her second of the week, eighth of the season) and an insurance tally from Merritt Mathias capped FC Kansas City’s best performance since May 18 (2-0 home win over the then-good Boston). The Thorns, on the other hand, gave arguably their worst performance of the season.

Implications: Without Becky Edwards, Portland’s no longer playing like a title contender. They have nine weeks to find a way to replace her. FC Kansas City, on the other hand, have rekindled their May selves. Many may have wondered what Andonovski was doing benching Cuellar and Matthias (many meaning me), but it’s worked. Go figure: A professional coach who’s worked with his players all year knows his squad better than we do.

Boston Breakers 3, Sky Blue FC 2 – Did I just imply (above) the Breakers are no longer good? Well then this happened, a win over a legitimately good team. As encouraging: The two goals from Sydney Leroux, who is suddenly only one goal behind Cheney for the league lead. For Sky Blue, it was their second disappointing performance of the week, falling to a team they’d handled two previous times this month.

Implications: For the first time since before the win in Portland, we’ve reason to believe Jim Gabarra’s team may fall back to the pack. Boston, on the other hand, is seven points out of the playoffs with 10 to play. They’ll need help, but it’s still possible.

And finally … our Player of the Week

source:  Ashlyn Harris may want to blame the Spirit defense, but Carli Lloyd deserves some credit. As we see in the missed chances racked up every weekend, scoring goals is never a given, and when you’re playing a midfielders role (albeit an attacking one).

That’s not to say Lloyd did everything on her own. Strong play from Sarah Huffman and Alex Sahlen created the first, a header from within Washington’s six-yard box. Abby Wambach crafted the final two, the first from wide left and the second with a flicked through ball that saw a Lloyd run open up the Spirit defense.

Lloyd, however, did her part. The first goal was relatively easy, but her finished on the second took advantage of the only ball width Ashlyn Harris gave her. On her final goal, Lloyd started and finished the movement, feeding Wambach before sprinting from the center circle during a play that ended in front of goal.

The role that Aaran Lines has Lloyd playing, the attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, is different that the job that’s made her famous for the national team, but just like Lauren Cheney in Kansas City, it may be the spot she’s best suited for. In six games, she’s notched four goals while helping to make the Flash a title contender.

Honorable mentions: Abby Wambach would have won this award other weeks; as would have Lauren Cheney (but seriously, we could say that every week); Hope Solo was ‘Hope Freakin’ Solo’ for much of the week; while Solo teammate Jessica Fishlock deserves as shout.

Three Good Questions: U.S. international/FC Kansas City midfielder Lauren Cheney

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Earlier this week, FC Kansas City playmaker Lauren Cheney talked to ProSoccerTalk about the Blues’ impending trip to Rochester, their Saturday match featured as ProSoccerTalk’s NWSL Game of the Week. While much of that conversation was featured in today’s profile, there were enough telling leftovers to dust off an old PST favorite: Three Good Questions.

Through one month of the NWSL season, FC Kansas City’s undefeated, with Cheney serving as the focal point of a team that’s deployed her in a somewhat new role. At UCLA and in Women’s Professional Soccer, the U.S. international was predominantly a striker, while a wealth of forward talent at the national team level has seen the versatile Cheney slowly pushed into a midfield role.

Kansas City, however, has taken advantage of Cheney’s versatility by making her into the playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 formation – playing behind Renae Cueller, in line with midfielders Sinead Farrelly and Kristie Mewis. Given the freedom to move as she sees fit in the attacking phase, Cheney’s been one of the league’s best conductors.

Here are three good questions for the U.S. international. We start by talking about the team’s performance in Tukwila, where Kansas City improved to 2-0-1 thanks to a 1-0 win over Reign FC:

1.) As a team, you had so much possession over the first 30 minutes against Seattle (last Saturday). You in particular, watching your movement, sometimes you’ll come back and show for the ball, if a marker trails you, you’ll peel off and go back upfield. How do you see your role within that attack?

I always want the ball, no matter what position I’m playing. If that’s forward or midfield, I’m always going to check back for the ball sometimes just because I like to get touches. Having a Sinead or a Kristie around me makes it so much easier because I can read off their movement. I’m able to get open more often and keep possession – just have those small touches. I think my movement has been pretty good, and I love it. I’m able to run at the back line if I want to or sometimes just pay a one-touch ball off.

2a.) When did it become apparent to you that you were going to play this role? When you got allocated, some people naturally assumed you would go back to being a number nine.

[FCKC head coach Vlatko Andonovski] did a great job of picking his team. I think the whole time his idea of me was playing a little bit behind the forward and running at players. The whole time I’ve been here in Kansas City, I’ve known this was going to be my role. He’s given us a little bit of freedom. Our ideas and our creativity – he’s given us the freedom to do that. He’s made that apparent from the beginning.

(follow-up on Andonovski, the 36-year-old Macedonian who was brought in from the Missouri Comets indoor team to serve as FCKC’s head coach)

2b.) I just met Vlatko for the first time on Saturday. He was so happy after that performance – his smile was so big. How would you describe him as a coach? What is his style like?

I like what you said there: Vladko had a big smile. You can tell Vladko’s passion for the game. His style is definitely the way that we play. He wants us to play out of the back. He doesn’t want to play long ball. He wants us to have heart and be creative.

Vlatko’s a nice, genuine person off the field, but he demands a lot of us. He wants us to be the hardest workers. He expects us to work hard. He expects us to string together passes and create things, and create opportunities. He’s not scared to let us know when it’s not good enough, but he also is very excited when it is good. He’s sure to let us know that, too.

It’s been awesome playing for Vlatko. He’s really helped our team develop to having a style. I hope that continues the rest of the season.

3.) There is this perception, and it started at the beginning of the year, that there was going to be a big two in this league – your team and Portland. Through one month of the season, there’s been little to prove otherwise. What is your perception of the overall power structure in the league?

I had heard always Portland: top of the line. We had garnered some good press, I would say, but you look at a Boston with Sydney Leroux scoring three goals, Heather O’Reilly scoring two. There are obviously teams that are going to threaten that.

It’s not until every team plays each other will we really know the drop off or who’s were. Right now, Portland’s done well, we’ve done well, but I think Boston’s done well, too. I think those gaps will continue to close the longer teams get to play together.

2013 NWSL team preview: Seattle Reign FC

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up: Seattle Reign FC.

Earlier today we talked to Laura Harvey, the former Arsenal Ladies manager who has recently seen ‘general manager’ added to her head coach’s responsibilities in Seattle. The 32-year-old is used to the dual role, her job in London asking her to build as well as coach the squad, but with Harvey abruptly taking on the extra duties after Amy Carnell resigned on Monday, there is a sense of disorganization emanating from Reign FC. If the club carries similar problems into the regular season, road games at Chicago, Portland and Kansas City will punish them ahead of their home opener on May 4.

Unfortunately, scheduling and front office transitions aren’t the only problems for Seattle. They’re not even the biggest issues. Reign FC will start the season without their three original U.S. allocations, and featuring a roster stocked in midfield but thin everywhere else, there are questions whether they can score or prevent goals.

The transition to the NWSL was always going to be difficult for a coach who had significant talent advantages in London, but thanks to some preseason misfortune, Harvey’s first task will be to revitalize hope in Seattle.

Who you know: Seattle were allocated three of the most recognizable names in U.S. women’s soccer: Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Amy Rodriguez. At the time, Seattle’s looked like one of the stronger allocations, even if Rapinoe was going to be in France until June. But then word came that Rodriguez was pregnant and out for the year. With Solo having recently undergone wrist surgery, none of the team’s big three will be with them in Chicago.

Carnell did go out and trade for Keelin Winters, a strong, all-purpose midfielder on the fringe of the U.S. Women’s National Team, but until Solo and Rapinoe return this summer, this team will lack the star power that could attract some Sounders fans to the team’s games in Tukwila.

Who you should know: Teresa Noyola is a former MAC Herman Trophy winner who will provide the creative presence in Harvey’s midfield. Christine Nairn, a Herman Trophy finalist last year, and Welsh international Jessica Fishlock can provide goals from the middle, while Canadian Kaylyn Kyle adds a deeper presence. Though it lacks headlining talent, Seattle’s midfield is as deep as any in the league.

What it means:  According to Harvey, Seattle will try to overload the middle in an attempt to make their midfield advantage decisive. The extent to which they can force their early matches into a batter of midfields will determine their survival.

If Seattle can stay within reach of the rest of the league, they’ll likely have a base to build from when their stars return. If the Reign can’t be within a couple of games (say, six-to-eight points) come mid-June, their Solo and Rapinoe aren’t likely to save them.

The first game in FC Kansas City history will take place Saturday against the Portland Thorns.


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2013 NWSL team preview: FC Kansas City

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. Next up is one of the league’s early favorites, FC Kansas City.

If there’s one team that can be the Dallas Mavericks to Thorns FC’s Miami Heat, it’s FC Kansas City. At least, if we take the thin speculation that’s festered since early winter’s allocation and give it far too much weight, Portland are the favorites and FCKC are dark horse that can chase them down.

It’s a surprising status for a team that lacks one of the league’s marquee talents. Instead, FC Kansas City combines rock solid  allocations, a fortuitous draft, and shrewd free agent signings to form one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. Whereas teams like the Thorns and Boston Breakers accent tremendous strengths with potentially worrisome weaknesses, Kansas City looks solid everywhere.

The question is not of faults but of potential. If another team with more firepower finds their stride, can FC Kansas City remain that galloping dark horse set to un-tell our narratives? Would you rather have a team that comes with guarantees, or one higher upside?

Who you know: Though she’s settling into a midfield role with the national team, Lauren Cheney (pictured) will be counted on for goals, something that weren’t easy to come by when she arrived in WPS from UCLA. When played at forward, she’ll be KC’s main option with the hope she’ll form a strong relationship with Kristie Mewis, the attacking midfielder that surprisingly fell to number three in the draft.

Becky Sauerbrunn, one of WPS’s best defenders, will be the cornerstone in central defense, while national team backup Nicole Barnhart will be the No. 1 in goal.

Who you should know: Casey Loyd may be the league’s ultimate X-factor. As skilled as anybody in this league, the former North Carolina Tar Heel was one of the final picks in the supplemental draft, falling after concern she wouldn’t play this season. With her commitment, head coach Vlatko Andonovski has a player who severely increases the team’s upside.

Canadian international Desiree Scott could be one of the league’s best defensive midfielders, Mexico’s Renae Cuellar will help Cheney in attack, while the likes of Melissa Henderson, Jen Buczkowski, Lauren Sesselmann and Sinead Farrelly round out a team that has very few obvious weaknesses.

That’s not a description that can be applied to a lot of teams in this league.

What it means:  When U.S. Soccer announced Kansas City had been awarded a NWSL franchise, it looked like an isolated team with no pre-existing footprint, one that might struggle to attract (or be allocated) talent. Reality has painted a drastically different picture. This team may lack a superstar, but top-to-bottom, it’s one of the most talented groups in the league – a title contender.

The first game in FC Kansas City history will take place Saturday against the Portland Thorns.

More NWSL previews:

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